June 30, 2009

Adobe is closed this week (and what that means)

I just saw Daring Fireball point to an SJ Merc story relaying the rather banal news that most Adobe offices are closed this week. So they are*. I’m no expert on company expense management, nor am I a corporate spokesperson (see blurb at right), but I feel like sharing a little perspective.

Let me first mention that these Adobe shutdowns are nothing new. I’ve worked here for 9 years, and the company has done the shutdowns off and on throughout that time–at least since ’01 or ’02. I didn’t hear the news of this one and say (as DF does) “Uh-oh.”

Mr. Gruber reasonably asks, “At a software company, shouldn’t every week be a productive week?” Sure, but I’ll bet you know what it’s like to work near holidays: it’s harder to make progress when lots of your colleagues are out of the office. If that’s going to be the case, why not just schedule a break & save a bunch of money on facilities, security, and so forth?**

I’d rather have everyone be gone at once (and thus more likely back at once) than to run at reduced strength for weeks on end.

Gruber also writes,

And I can only guess that on some, if not most, teams, there is subtle (or even not so subtle) pressure to keep working from home on whatever your current project is.

Nope. As I understand it, a few teams with time-sensitive projects may get permission to work through the break, but everyone else is taking the time off. Because the breaks aren’t a surprise, most teams built them into their schedules a long time ago (just as they do with holidays). Adobe offers very generous PTO benefits, to the point that people don’t use up enough time off. A week-long shutdown is a way of saying, “No, seriously, guys–we want you to take some vacation. Get the hell out of here, enjoy yourself, and come back refreshed.”

Anyway, my inbox for Monday shows 70 mails, vs. 300+ for a typical day. Clearly somebody is taking vacation seriously. Collectively we’re taking it all in stride.

* So why am I continuing to blog? For one thing, I’m drumming my fingers with nervous energy, waiting for a baby to arrive, and I need the distraction.

** For a company of ~7,400 employees, saving a week’s worth of summertime energy & other infrastructure expenses translates to real money. Meanwhile Adobe HQ (already the first existing LEED Platinum-rated green building) is upgrading this week to even more energy-efficient HVAC. The 20-story yellow crane I saw yesterday can’t do its thing while people are inside/below.

Posted by John Nack at 12:01 AM on June 30, 2009


  • Richard Broom — 2:02 AM on June 30, 2009

    Hey there, if you need any advice on claiming expenses, you could ask our British Members of Parliament. They’re experts in the field!
    Otherwise, think it is brilliant idea for Adobe to have time off in the way you’re doing it. I bet a lot of Adobe employees keeping working on projects at home during their time off.

  • Lior Shapira — 2:28 AM on June 30, 2009

    Wow, congrats on the baby! p.s (if I’m already commenting), your p-shop the news post a few days ago cracked me up, those guys are brilliant :-)

  • Phil Brown — 4:25 AM on June 30, 2009

    Enjoy the break (all of you)!
    Wish I had a week off to play with my new 3GS iPhone, but alas I’ll be working ;p
    Hope all is well on the baby front for you, too, mate – looking forward to reading the good news soon :-)

  • Mordy Golding — 5:31 AM on June 30, 2009

    People will do anything for a story, right? Seriously though, I worked at Adobe — we had these “shutdowns” a few times. I think it’s nice, and I do understand the accounting of it — it really does the company good on a variety of levels. But it really goes beyond these shutdowns as well. It was often that my manager would come into my office and tell me in no uncertain terms that I had worked hard enough for the day — GO HOME. Likewise, a manager was always asking about vacation plans — at Adobe, they are very good about forcing employees to take off to avoid burnout. Teams are usually good about offsites and days out of the office — all good stuff. I would worry less about Adobe’s business practices — they are a well-managed company — and would worry more about making sure their products hit their mark and work as advertised :)

  • Mark Hebert — 5:32 AM on June 30, 2009

    I have worked at many places that shut down the plant/office for 1-2 weeks and made everyone take the vacation. Not unusual at all. Sometimes it is the only way to get yearly maintenance done.
    This is why I hate modern journalists, they are so unimaginative that they have to cook up controversy where there isn’t, when there is so much legit stuff they should be doing. Maybe they just can’t look anymore.

  • Nat Brown — 5:47 AM on June 30, 2009

    Time off is highly under-rated. The human brain cannot remain fresh and creative on a production line schedule. (Some human brains are never fresh and creative but that is off-thread). I think that in the information industry, time off may be more important than time on.
    Contrary to Mr. Gruber’s take, I read the headlines of Adobe’s closure as good news. In my view, the fresh energy the employees will bring to their work after the break will offset any negligible loss of productivity during the holiday week. I expect it is excellent news for Flash.
    Hope all goes well with the baby. And never being one to speak for myself, send your spouse best wishes from all your readers.

  • Scott Barnes — 9:38 AM on June 30, 2009

    We do the same after every launch of Silverlight. Once the PR buzz has died down and everyones got through their months of planning it’s kind of a good point to hit the reset button.
    I doubt i’ll ever see Microsoft shut down for a whole week as it just would never fly but this is the closest we have.
    Enjoy the break, and expecting a baby is a nervous time! – I was snowboarding in New Zealand 6hrs before my daughter was born (I lived in Australia at the time) and just made it in time! :)

    Scott Barnes

  • Rob — 9:56 AM on June 30, 2009

    Ten days paid time off is considered “generous”??!
    [I’m not sure where you’re getting that figure. The link I provided mentions that employees accrue 16 hours (2 days) PTO per month, which translates to 24 days (!) per year. Additionally, once you’ve been here for five years, you’re entitled to a 3-week sabbatical (which doesn’t eat into other PTO hours), and you start accruing PTO at a faster and faster rate. Subsequent sabbaticals are progressively longer.
    The problem (such as it is one) is that people here tend to be dedicated & driven, so getting them to actually take time off is difficult. I’m the poster child for that (cf. this blog), to the point where my boss is assigning me “special projects” (i.e. don’t be at work right now, as she knows I’ll be right back online that evening/weekend). –J.]
    I’m glad that the consensus here is that Adobe is a good place to work,
    [#11 on the current Fortune list –J.]
    but lets not called the company generous for offering the absolute minimun PTO.

  • jeffrey Tranberry — 11:20 AM on June 30, 2009

    As John notes, the company shutdown is nice because you don’t come back to a huge pile of stuff to process. The shutdown helps Adobe and I can enjoy some guilt free R & R with the wife and kid. I’m all for it. If only I had the foresight to schedule the birth of child to coincide with the shutdown. John – good luck with little Rambo!

  • Dan Skaggs — 12:05 PM on June 30, 2009

    Another thing to remember is that, from the company’s standpoint, all those accrued PTO hours show up on the books as a liability. Not only is it obviously good for the employees for the above-mentioned reasons, it helps the company by lessening that particular liability as some of these accrued hours are taken. Granted, for a company like Adobe, the dollar figures represented by this is really small compared to their overall budget, but every little bit helps these days.
    [Yes, I think that’s part of the calculus, though I know amazingly little about these details of corporate finance. –J.]

  • Paul Clark — 12:24 PM on June 30, 2009

    Adobe employees should be taking this time to work on a version of Flash that is actually performant on OS X.

  • Gazoobee — 12:29 PM on June 30, 2009

    I agree with DF (Gruber). These breaks are an asinine idea that just proves how completely out of touch Adobe is in general. No real “creative” would ever take a break in the middle of a project and just stop thinking about it for a month. The very idea that Adobe and it’s employees think it’s possible shows that they approach the job of software creation as if it were an assembly line, not what it should be which is the creation of excellent creative software. I’ve been a master PShop user since 3.0 days and am an InDesign expert as well, but these days when I go home, I am proud to say that my personal workflow is “Adobe free.”
    Many of us may be forced to use these products in our day jobs but that doesn’t mean they are any good, just entrenched. IMO Adobe is a giant crumbling edifice just waiting to collapse when the first good competition comes along. As a “creative” myself, I’ve been disgusted with Adobe’s offerings and offended by their predatory pricing for many years now and I hope you all have a really, really, long vacation some time soon (if you get my drift).

  • Chris — 2:00 PM on June 30, 2009

    You forgot Master douchebag too.

  • Rob Fahrni — 2:40 PM on June 30, 2009

    We’re doing the same thing where I work, only slightly different. We have to take two weeks off between June and the end of August. Software folks tend to sit on time off, and that time off sits on the books as debt, forced shutdowns clears that debt off the books.
    I kind of like the idea of the entire company shutting down at a certain time. You can plan for it, not such a bad idea.

  • Lazlo Nibble — 3:27 PM on June 30, 2009

    Gazoobee, helpful tip: when you’re trolling sites for an opening to post a random “I hate you and everything you stand for” flame, you need to prep the text ahead of time and blind-post it instead of trying to craft the diatribe to look like a legitimate reply. That halfhearted attempt at camouflage just leads to non-sequiturs like your crack about “stopping thinking for a month”, which has absolutely no basis in anything being discussed. It brings the reader up short with a “huh, what?” right when you’re building up steam.
    If you were shooting a war movie, would you interrupt the buildup to an assault on a machine-gun nest with a shot of your hero inexplicably wearing a frilly pink tutu over his fatigues? Same thing, really.
    [Heh heh–nicely said. –J.]

  • abu — 5:12 PM on June 30, 2009

    Here in Italy the minimum statutory leave is 20 days (plus a dozen of public holidays).
    You really could use some labor union =D

  • imajes — 11:43 PM on June 30, 2009

    These breaks are an asinine idea that just proves how completely out of touch Adobe is in general. No real “creative” would ever take a break in the middle of a project and just stop thinking about it for a month.

    Spoken like a true non-creative Gazoobee. Time off and even staring into space can be fantastic creative boosters.
    As for holiday times Adobes does seem generous – for a US company, that is. In the UK 4-5 weeks off is the norm. One of the main reasons Americans are seen by the rest of the world as so ignorant of other places is the they get so little holiday time and not much chance to visit places outside of the US as a result. So it’s nice to see Adobe are better than the norm in this important area. I know someone who works for Sony in gaming [California] and beds are provided at work to save time going home, holidays get cancelled all the time even if booked and paid for. Though I think pizzas get sent in, to save them the effort of leaving work to get food!

  • Tom — 4:46 AM on July 01, 2009

    It’s great Adobe is forcing everyone to take time off.
    Until someone needs to place a contract based support call…
    [To the best of my knowledge the support staff are working this week. (I got a reply to a case I escalated.) –J.]
    Wish I would have seen this post earlier before I wasted 4 hours of my life listening to their terrible hold music.
    [If that happened, then something is seriously broken, and I’d be happy to investigate for you. Drop me a line & we can talk about the details. –Thanks, J.]

  • Steve — 5:54 AM on July 01, 2009

    I find the level of “spin” going on in this thread somewhat amusing. I have to hand it to Adobe’s management. When you can screw your employees and make them actually believe it’s a good thing, that’s something to brag about. Talk about reality distortion fields!
    [Who is getting screwed? Gruber is starting to reach for straws with the whole “if you don’t have a PTO balance remaining…” thing. If you’re in that situation, it’s because you’ve already taken many, many days of PTO. (For example, if you’ve worked at Adobe for a year and have no PTO hours remaining, it’s because you’ve *already taken a month off in the last year*. I personally don’t know anyone who takes off that much time. As I say, the problem is that people take off too little.) –J.]
    For the rest of us, under know circumstances would I consider it to be a good thing to have to deal with forced vacation schedules. There have been times where I have chosen not to take a vacation due to project schedules, etc, but that was always my choosing. This is not a good thing and there is no way to spin it as such, regardless for how long a company has had this policy. I’m inclined to side with Gruber on this issue. When I see a company resort to tactics like this, I say “uh oh” as well.
    [The only “spin” I’m applying is a little corrective agent, responding to a bunch of uninformed speculation & fear-mongering.
    There are enough legitimate reasons to take issue with the company or individual products/people/decisions that it’s not necessary to invent new ones. –J.]

  • Andrew — 12:44 PM on July 01, 2009

    24 days of PTO per year sure sounds like socialism to me.
    Um…can i work there?

  • Boone — 9:24 PM on July 01, 2009

    Shutdowns aren’t new for many people. We have one at Christmas every year for all the reasons John states; when you’ve got a large team at 1/4 strength, you’re not getting the best bang for the payroll buck. Besides, these shutdowns tend to happen when one day is a holiday, so it’s not even a full 40 hours.

  • Jack Waddington — 11:28 AM on July 02, 2009

    An enforced “vacation” for all is fine, but why not try a little harder to sell more software? For instance, I perform volunteer work for a non-profit organization, but Adobe has stopped supporting non-profits, ergo, I am not upgrading and am now teaching myself to rewrite the Web site by “hand”, rather than with Dreamweaver; and using some excellent free graphic software (or on-line applications) for what I used to do in Photoshop.

  • imajes — 9:32 AM on July 05, 2009

    More comments in the Guardian [UK} newspaper this week about this.

  • Brian Sexton — 2:14 PM on July 05, 2009

    The amount of PTO does seem pretty good, but considerably less so when combined with the requirement to take much of it on the company’s schedule of multiple shutdowns rather than your own. People have families and other things to consider in scheduling their vacations, so while shutdowns may be good for the company, they do seem to detract rather significantly from the allure of the amount of PTO.
    Of course, it could be worse: you could start as a two-month temporary worker (no PTO) a few weeks before a shutdown, not know about the shutdowns until after signing on, then find yourself with no work and no pay for a week. Knowing that I’ll be skipping this week’s payday could make the whole week a bit rough. :P

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